My First Few Questions About Apple’s Education News

By  |  Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

Judging from the turnout for our live coverage of Apple’s education event–which was much sparser than for something like the iPad 2 announcement–a lot of tech enthusiasts lost interest in today’s news when they figured out that it didn’t involve any new hardware. That’s a shame. The news–a new textbook-friendly version of iBooks, a free book-creation tool called iBooks Author, and a spiffier version of the iTunes U courseware app–has as much or more potential to make its mark on the world as any new iPad or iPhone could. Everything looks really, really cool.

But while the folks who did comment during our liveblog–a smart bunch–and the ones I ran into here at the event were impressed by much of what they saw, they also had questions. Lots of them. And so do I. Here are a few of them:

Just how likely is it that large numbers of great big school systems will buy into this? They’re not known for boldly seizing new opportunities. And even if a $500 iPad and $14.99 digital textbooks make more economic sense than a whole stack of $60 textbooks, how will schools acquire the iPads and textbooks and distribute them? Apple didn’t really address this during the event, but everyone I chatted with in the demo room wondered about it.

Is it an issue that these textbooks are iPad-only? You can’t read them on a Mac–let alone a Windows PC or a Kindle–even though you use a Mac to create them. I don’t blame Apple for its iPad-centric approach to textbooks, especially since the standards don’t exist to push out truly rich, interactive textbooks across multiple platforms. But I wonder whether schools will be wary about wedding themselves to one tablet, and whether any of them will have the guts to ask Apple if it plans to release an Android version.

Can we trust kids with iPads? College students, sure. But how about K-12 ones? (Apple’s Phil Schiller said that iPads are more durable than dead-tree textbooks because they don’t get dog-eared. But textbooks don’t shatter when you drop them.)

Will this democratize publishing? I came away from the event excited about the new stuff’s potential to change education–but I also started thinking about publishing my own books using iBooks Author. It’s already possible to self-publish for the Kindle, the Nook, and other platforms, but with iBooks Author, whipping up a beautiful, beautifully interactive book is theoretically within the reach of normal folks who know how to use a word processor. (Apple provides themes that help non-designers create books that aren’t eyesores.)

How about the competition? Amazon has dabbled in textbooks with the increasingly outdated Kindle DX and textbook rental, but it hasn’t set out to change the world. Startup Inkling is out to change the world, but it’s just getting started, and now it’s competing with Apple. I’ll be curious to see if Apple will be a one-of-a-kind player or part of a bigger revolution.

More thoughts later. For now, I’m interested in yours…


Read more: , ,

21 Comments For This Post

  1. Bouke Timbermont Says:

    If it's really iPad-only, I hate it and I am sure it will fail.

    Heck, I'd even accept it if there'd be a desktop app that allowed me to read these things on my Mac or Windows PC. But iPad-only? Nope, I'm out.

    Imagine being able to only watch itunes movies on your appleTV. Or only listen to music on your iPod. That IS rediculous.

  2. Paul Says:

    I don't think I'm alone when I say that I've spent hundreds of dollars on apps that I can only run on my iOS devices, hundreds more on apps that will only work on my Mac and thousands more on ones that would only run on a PC I don't have anymore… I can't say I regret any of those purchases.

  3. Tim Says:

    Is it an issue that these textbooks are iPad-only?

    The Author app can export to other formats that are supported on other platforms; pdf, txt and .ibooks is just a mime wrapper around .ePub

  4. Fred Says:

    Except that to get into the iBookstore, authors have to commit to exclusivity. So while you could use Author to create a PDF, you can't use it if you want to sell the books through Apple.

  5. Walt French Says:

    big publishers ALREADY must have their own content management systems so the exclusivity restriction that titles created w the author app is much less a deal for them. They know as well the issues w Amazon’s also-Draconian terms and seem happy enough to have signed on.

    The big deal here is the potential diversification of learning materials due to individual education entities being able to contract for target materials, and for a range of experts to get into a biz that mega deal requirements locked them out of.

  6. Paul Says:

    I'm interested in logistics…

    Will kids be using their own iTunes account and purchasing their own books or is there an entirely new infrastructure for schools to push out books and still pay for them one copy at a time?

    Maybe this is covered somewhere I haven't stumbled on yet or maybe it's just an extension of a current system that exists for corporations that i'm blissfully unaware of.

  7. @xecretcode Says:

    I predict an explosion of content as many writers have been dreaming of self-publishing on iTunes. The fact that this tool is free achieves two things:

    1) Allows authors to test the water without risk.
    2) Totally leapfrog Adobe as they will be unwilling to compete with a free Apple tool.

  8. Rajko Says:

    Harry, out of all of the coverage I have seen you are the only one that raises those logical questions, thanks!

  9. craig kensek Says:

    If a student bought/rented a book, would they have access to the book on the Mac, on their laptop, with their "office" package.

  10. Robin Sherman Says:

    I love where all this could go. You just know there are incredible possibilities down the road. But as we already see herein, devil is in the details.

    I, too, want to create and read these interactive ebooks, ePubs, excuse me, iBooks, and stuff on my MacBook Pro. Could care less about iPhone and iPad Touch for reading.

    Once again in the Wild West of Standards.

  11. Cathy Doyle Says:

    Colleges who want to do this have well developed procedures in place already for helping students purchase the machines that the college wants them to have. This isn't a problem, just take the existing laptop model and insert the word iPad. I wonder, based on the comments that I've read from others, if the iPad office suite is robust enough to deal with graduate level coursework.

    I trust my 10 year old with the iPad, but she's a very responsible young kid.

  12. Fred Says:

    Everyone defending Apple points to colleges, but Apple quite specifically talked only about secondary education this morning. I can't see a school district paying $500 per iPad per child, plus another $15 per textbook per child per year (unlike dead tree books, you won't be able to use them year after year). In my school district, that's an outlay of $25 million just for the hardware.

    It's notable that of the iPads in education Apple talked about, only 1000 are being used in a one-to-one situation.

  13. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Yes, not going to happen in any meaningful sense in the K-12 public EDU system.

  14. Yardboy Says:

    Not to mention the ongoing costs of staffing IT support for tens of thousands of users. I consult to a school district with 11k students. They have a dozen or so IT personnel who support, primarily, teachers, principals and administrative staff (< 1500 people). They could get a grant for the hardware, potentially, but they'd have to double staff (or more) to support every kid in the district.

  15. The_Heraclitus Says:

    I've sold into the K-12 IT market extensively. (from small districts to the largest in the nation) You are correct. It would be a nightmare in the making.

  16. Richard Says:

    As a writer that is somewhat miffed by the publishing industry, iBooks Author is essentially the missing link between my work and the world. An historic day for writers to be certain.

  17. Richard Says:

    Correction: A historic day…

  18. Dave321 Says:

    You would have to buy the kids Otterbox cases to go with the iPads.

  19. Guan Says:

    They will open it up for windows and mac. Progression path like that for iTunes? COver predominant desktop an tablet platforms sans Android.

  20. iPad 3 Prices Says:

    Very big news for those who work in education !

  21. Electric Kettles Says:

    Yeah really it is a big news for all who are working in education and business fields. 🙂